Blue and Orange, Purple and Yellow, Red and Green. These are complimentary colors, and each set is made up of a primary and secondary color (the color you get when mixing two primaries). They are directly opposite each other on the color wheel.
"Complimentary" may suggest that when using the two colors, they will naturally go together. Not necessarily. If both colors are the same intensity and value (saturation and tone), they will not harmonize well. True, some artist do that on purpose, to achieve a purposefully garish effect, as you may see in contemporary art, and that's fine. Traditionally, however, care is taken to vary the tone and intensity of each color to provide a pleasant visual experience.
That is what I sought to do with Alex Plays On Saturday. My palette was basically four colors: red, green (the complimentaries), brown and gray. White and black are used as well, but I was taught in art school that these are not colors.
For my complimentary scheme to be succesful, I had to vary the tone and intensity of the greens and reds. You'll see that the greens are subdued (except for the olive green in the title) and the reds are more hot (intense). If this were converted to grayscale, you would still see the "reds" pop and those green walls would become a very light gray. Checking your progress in grayscale is a good way to see how your values (lights and darks) are holding up when working in color. That's easy to do if you work digitally. If you work in paint or pastel, you can measure your colors against a grayscale strip, made up of ten shades of gray ranging from white to black. Squinting your eyes while doing this helps immensley.
While the color scheme for Alex is built around complimentaries, the piece is enhanced by the use of grays, browns, blacks and whites. Black takes care of itself, it will always pop. I varied the grays and browns, but kept them mostly muted for the purpose of letting the reds and greens dance with each other.
Since this is a music piece, I wanted a rythym to the scene. I achieved that by using a circle motif, symbolic of a vinyl record. Notice that Alex is seated on a circular rug (well, a purposefully quirky and skewed circular rug) and that the red objects; trumpet case, plate, album cover, record player and chair, form a circle around him. That circle is further defined by the triangular shape formed by the floor and walls.
Seen another way, you will also see that the reds suggest a triangle pointing upwards to Alex's red glasses. That brings our eyes to the "golden section" occupied by his tilted head.
I hope my brief lesson on color theory was helpful, especially if you are an aspiring illustrator. Gaining a knowledge of color theory will take your work to a higher level. Though I've been making art for many years, I'm a perpetual student and always enjoy sharing what I've learned along the way.
I'm also a Jazz fan, but the genius in that music is way over my head, so I won't lecture on that. I just know what I like.
Thanks for reading.
Alex Plays On Saturday © 2020 Ed Koehler